Cambodia has never actually prominently made its way into my travel radar as much as say, places in Europe, which is why I was extremely pleased when this trip ended up being quite the pleasant surprise. Visiting Siem Reap was such a unique and lovely experience. So much so in fact that it has bumped its way up to my favourite places I’ve visited in recent years.
It was a cool December morning when we arrived in Siem Reap during the wee hours, and I was surprised when the drive from the tiny airport to the hotel took less than 20 minutes. Typically the airport is really far away from the city proper, and that’s not always a good thing especially when your flight is late and lengthy.
On the way from the airport we passed by tons of grand looking hotels, each built with an obvious European architectural influence, and most of them sprawling. I didn’t take pictures because the streets were dark, and I think I may have been half awake at the time. For the three nights we were in Siem Reap, we lodged in the Ree Hotel.
Lodging in Siem Reap
I actually loved my stay at the Ree Hotel. A spa hotel that’s located close to the airport, the rooms here are large and clean, the commodities complete. The air-conditioning is really cold, which might be a factor for those who will be visiting during the Cambodian summer. (I strongly recommend visiting during November to January for cooler weather.) Oh and did I mention there’s Wi-Fi? The signal is strongest by the poolside, I found.
For a little over 50 bucks a night you can have a twin sharing room plus daily breakfast at their Orchid Coffee House (which looks more like half a ballroom really). The hotel even held a Christmas eve gala for the guests right by the poolside at no extra charge! It was a memorable evening full of food and music, especially because I’ve never experienced anything like this before in any hotel I’ve ever lived in.
I must say, the coffee is really good in the Orchid Coffee House. (I kept forgetting to ask what brand it was!) I also loooved the tangy jams. During my stay, I always get a bowl of piping hot noodle soup with a light dose of chilli (a must for chilli-lovers!), alongside a small bowl of cornflakes topped with their delicious fruity yoghurt and mixed fruit in syrup. My coffee cup is always filled, and I go back for seconds always. And if I have any more room I will toast a piece of bread and spread some of that yummy jam.
Bet you can tell I really enjoyed the breakfast spread here. If you are planning a trip to Cambodia, I highly recommend staying at the Ree Hotel.
Some observations on Siem Reap
Siem Reap is actually quite small and going about town literally feels like you’re going around in circles. The impressive thing is that this tiny area manages to fit in a load of tourist attractions, each with their unique characteristics that keep them interesting. The only thing I would suggest before you go anywhere is to have an abundance of 1-dollar bills. You don’t actually need to change your dollars because most stores and stalls here will accept them.
What’s really nice about Siem Reap, aside from the temples (which I will share with you on my next posts), is actually how friendly the people- the Khmer– are. Everyone I encountered greeted me with a smile, and not even the souvenir stall-owners got annoyed with our ceaseless haggling. And I like to point this out because I’ve been to places like Thailand and Vietnam where my experience with many (not all, mind you) of the locals were memorable in a negative way. The Khmer took it all in good stride, even cracking jokes with all sorts of foreigners who were combing through their goods, or eyeing the delicious grilled food in their market stalls.
Oh and they speak decent English, which was a pleasant surprise! In Cambodia the top three languages learned in school happen to be Khmer, English, and French. Not bad! It was even interesting to hear some of the food sellers in the market speak in Korean since majority of their tourists come from South Korea.
Some of the best things to buy in Siem Reap are the antiques and wood carvings. They have some very nice scarves as well as these long billowy pants that give the illusion of maxi skirts. I bought pretty patterned pouches and pencil cases for my friends (same as the ones in the photo above) but my favourite has to be this snow globe, which has inspired me to officially start a snow globe collection for my travels!
And as always, since this is a market and we are tourists in this place, there’s some worth in trying to bargain for the things you buy. Try going as much as 50% off the initial price, and the more you buy, the more chances they will concede to this discount. My Mom actually asked for freebies after she bought a whole bunch of scarves, pants, and pouches, and they gave here three magnets and three pretty handcrafted bracelets for free. You can try that technique too.
Eating around Siem Reap
For the record, I am not at all familiar with Cambodian food. I regret not even researching about any must-try dishes before I went there, so I can’t actually tell if some of the food we had was authentic Cambodian or something tailored to the Chinese palate. However I did enjoy every single meal I had while I was here.
The Cambodians like to serve these not-so-spicy curries drenched in tangy sauce that’s almost reminiscent to pineapple-juice-tinged sauces. Every meal had one dish like this, and they are what I look forward to the most.
A favourite snack I discovered are these cone-shaped cookies that are sooo crunchy and addictive! At first I thought they were made from coconut because the scent was very light and tropical, but then I realized they were made from durian.
Pick the version with the black sesame seeds instead of the plain because it really makes a difference in flavour.
The Silk Farm at Les Artisans d’Angkor
It seems no Asian trip abroad is complete without a visit to a silk farm. The Les Artisans d’Angkor actually houses many artists specializing in crafts like wood carving, silver plating, and lacquer painting, but we visited only the silk weavers.
The products here are of course expensive, but the quality is topnotch. There were pouches and bags, pieces of expensive silken clothing, and even pillow cases and bedsheets. I reckon people who enjoy these sorts of handmade products will find a lot to love in the store at the end of every tour. Among the displays, the scarves were what really caught my eye, but since I had already managed to buy some nice inexpensive scarves from the marketplace, I didn’t buy anything here.
I did however discover the fantastic ice creams of The Blue Pumpkin, a popular bakery and ice cream parlour in Cambodia. They had a tiny stall inside Les Artisans. They make really mean Speculoos Cookies, but what I adored were their colourful gelatos with interesting flavours. Below are their ice creams in passionfruit (delightfully tangy and refreshing), and mint chocolate (simply divine).
This is just part 1 of 3 Cambodia posts. On my next post I will talk about some of the temples we visited, so stay tuned for that! Looks like I’m slowly coming back to my blogging ways. 🙂
Here’s a little travel video I made of all the places we visited in Siem Reap!
To see the other places we visited in the video, check out the other posts in this travel series: